Trotty in the Belfry
13.7 x 9 cm framed
Third illustration for The Chimes, A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In in The Christmas Books, Charles Dickens Library Edition (1910), vol. 8, facing page 128.
This lithograph realises the central moment in the story, when the protagonist (right) encounters the world of the supernatural in the belfry of St. Dunstan's. [Commentary continued below.]
[Click on image to enlarge it.]
Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
[You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]
He saw the tower, whither his charmed footsteps had brought him, swarming with dwarf phantoms, spirits, elfin creatures of the Bells. He saw them leaping, flying, dropping, pouring from the Bells without a pause. He saw them, round him on the ground; above him, in the air; clambering from him, by the ropes below; looking down upon him, from the massive iron-girded beams; peeping in upon him, through the chinks and loopholes in the walls; spreading away and away from him in enlarging circles, as the water ripples give way to a huge stone that suddenly comes plashing in among them. He saw them, of all aspects and all shapes. He saw them ugly, handsome, crippled, exquisitely formed. He saw them young, he saw them old, he saw them kind, he saw them cruel, he saw them merry, he saw them grim; he saw them dance, and heard them sing; he saw them tear their hair, and heard them howl. He saw the air thick with them. He saw them come and go, incessantly. He saw them riding downward, soaring upward, sailing off afar, perching near at hand, all restless and all violently active. Stone, and brick, and slate, and tile, became transparent to him as to them. He saw them in the houses, busy at the sleepers' beds. He saw them soothing people in their dreams; he saw them beating them with knotted whips; he saw them yelling in their ears; he saw them playing softest music on their pillows; he saw them cheering some with the songs of birds and the perfume of flowers; he saw them flashing awful faces on the troubled rest of others, from enchanted mirrors which they carried in their hands.
He saw these creatures, not only among sleeping men but waking also, active in pursuits irreconcilable with one another, and possessing or assuming natures the most opposite. He saw one buckling on innumerable wings to increase his speed; another loading himself with chains and weights, to retard his. He saw some putting the hands of clocks forward, some putting the hands of clocks backward, some endeavouring to stop the clock entirely. He saw them representing, here a marriage ceremony, there a funeral; in this chamber an election, in that a ball he saw, everywhere, restless and untiring motion.
Bewildered by the host of shifting and extraordinary figures, as well as by the uproar of the Bells, which all this while were ringing, Trotty clung to a wooden pillar for support, and turned his white face here and there, in mute and stunned astonishment. [Third Quarter, p. 120-121]
Unlike the illustrations of the original, 1844 novella, Furniss's do not exhibit the problems of continuity, particularly in terms of the figure of Trotty Veck, who appears so different in the plates by Richard Doyle and John Leech, but is in every respect identical throughout Furniss's four presentations of him.
Upper left: Daniel Maclise's "The Tower of the Chimes" (1844); centre: Richard Doyle's "Trotty Veck among the Bells" (1844); right: E. A. Abbey's "'What Trotty Saw in the Belfry" (1876). [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Whereas the original novella in Maclise's The Tower of the Chimes", the oversized frontispiece, pushing against the margins, and Maclise's ornamental title-page "The Spirit of the Chimes" introduces the reader to the story's supernatural machinery even before the story proper begins, Furniss has had to wait until his third illustration to introduce the goblins who effect Trotty's dismal vision of the future and heighten his sympathy for his own class in the age-old Manichaean struggle between the forces of evil and the forces of good in ordinary human lives. Furniss has abandoned his caricature mode evident in "Trotty before Sir Joseph" to treat his bizarre subject with a mixture of high drama (evident in Trotty's obsessive response to the goblins) and weird fantasy in his realisation of the spirits themselves in a style more reminiscent of Doyle's "Trotty Veck among the Bells" than Maclise's highly complex frontispiece and ornate title-page. Since Barnard offered him no model for the scene (as a realist and social-commentator, Barnard avoids Dickens's playful and sinister goblins entirely in his illustrations for the Chapman and Hall Household Edition), Furniss had to return to the original novella for inspiration, just as E. A. Abbey did for his American Household Edition illustration "What Trotty Saw in the Belfry" — it being unlikely that Forniss was able to consult the American copyright regime text produced by Harper and Brothers in 1876.
Furniss's illustrations, controlled by a single artistic visiopn if not executed in a single, coherent style, present the supernatural mechanism of the goblins of the Chimes just this once. In the 1844 novella, Richard Doyle in the same scene had to bear in mind Maclise's initial offerings as he attempted to present the real world of The Hungry Forties alongside the metaphysical world,
with its clouds of elfin creatures emerging from the bells. In the upper portions of his three remaining illustrations, he wrought variations on this theme, thereby supplying continuity to his various designs as well as consistent supernatural relief to the three scenes of despair he was asked to depict: the Vecks with the beleaguered Will Fern and his motherless daughter [sic — Dickens describes Lilian as Will's neice] (II, 109); Trotty overwhelmed by his vision among the bells (III, 134); and Margaret with her child at the river's edge (IV, 158). The contrast between the highly sketched elves higher up on the plate and the firmly demarcated humans below visually established the separate realms of fantasy and reality between which The Chimes moved. [Cohen, 153]
There is no such oscillation between the two worlds of the story in later editions, although Furniss does repeat the dream-vision theme in "Trotty's Dream", which, however, incorporates elements from Leech's "New Year's Dance" rather than Maclise's previsions of the supernatural. The accompanying extended captions, presumably added by J. A. Hammerton, Furniss's editor, rather than by the illustrator himself, constantly remind the reader of the intimate connection between Dickens's text and Furniss's visual program, but they do not fuse the two aspects of the volume as the 1844 novella's illustrations do, "As the text becomes part of the picture" (Solberg, 114) and the words of Dickens become "so integral a part of the design that to do without them would automatically upset the balance" (Solberg, 114).
As opposed to Doyle's upper register/lower register dichotomy for the supernatural and real worlds, in "Trotty in the Belfry" Furniss uses the contrast of light and dark to separate the two spheres, with Trotty's more sharply delineated, black-coated figure suggesting reality and the brilliant light that pours from the bell immediately above him suggesting the metaphysical dimension; the two dimensions coalesce humorously in Trotty battered top-hat (lower left), which is a subject of investigation for a curious pair of cartoon goblins. In respect of their large eyes, distorted bodies, and grotesque visages, Furniss's playful spirits seem to be directly descended from Richard Doyle's, as opposed to the nude female (left of centre), whom Furniss apparently borrowed from Maclise's elegant contributions.
Cohen, Jane Rabb. Charles Dickens and His Original Illustrators. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio U. P., 1980.
Dickens, Charles. The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells That Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In. Il. John Leech, Richard Doyle, Daniel Maclise, and Clarkson Stanfield. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1844 [dated 1845].
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Il. Harry Furniss. Charles Dickens Library Edition. 18 vols. London: Educational Book Company, 1910. Vol. 8.
Dickens, Charles. The Christmas Books. Il. Sol Eytinge, Jr. The Diamond Edition. 16 vols. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Books. Il. Fred Barnard. The Household Edition. London: Chapman and Hall, 1878.
Dickens, Charles. Christmas Stories. Il. E. A. Abbey. The Household Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1876.
Solberg, Sarah A. "'Text Dropped into the Woodcuts': Dickens' Christmas Books." Dickens Studies Annual 8 (1980): 103-118.
Thomas, Deborah A. Dickens and The Short Story. Philadelphia: U. Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
Welsh, Alexander. "Time and the City in The Chimes." Dickensian 73, 1 (January 1977): 8-17.
Last modified 19 June 2013